Rio de Janeiro.
In June 2013 what seemed like a minor demonstration against the increase of 20 cents in the public transportation ticket in Sao Paulo, Brazil’s largest city, turned into a free for all of police brutality. Police riot control troops unleashed a series of savage attacks on protesters eerily similar to those used by the military coup of 1964. FIFA Confederations Cup football (soccer) championship was underway in Brazil’s major cities to showcase the country as an emerging economic power prior to the World Cup of 2014. What no one could foresee was that a 20 cents raise in the transport ticket would mushroom into a series of nationwide manifestations.
Although it is true that Brazil has developed socially and economically in recent years, there is a growing frustration with the unpopular political elite enshrined at the capital Brasilia. The fixed election routine with electronic voting urns prone to fraud have come into question and suspicion – as has Brazil’s representative democracy . The cost of an elected representative in Brazil is three times that of European countries such as France according to www.transparencia.org.br
With a growing urban population, there is a need for massive investments and ambitious planning In public transportation, but the government reacts to problems with makeshift measures. The auto industry lobby has pressed successfully for tax discounts to put more cars in the streets without the corresponding public investment in road infrastructure and transit systems. The result is chaos in the urban centers and interstates, with a record number of vehicle accident fatalities. Over 43 thousand perish per year. Electronic traffic monitoring cameras have created a multimillion dollar “Ticket industry”. Public health and education are relegated to the “future” as in one election after the other promises are made and then broken.
Brazilians were mad, and using the world wide platform of the Confederation Cup, focused their grievances on the new football “Arenas” built for the 2014 World Cup that cost the state coffers a staggering 28 billion Reais – approximately 13 billion dollars. President Dilma Rouseff proudly inaugurated the Arenas – a political mistake she would live to regret. The cost of these “First World” arenas were double the cost in Europe. Brazil is known throughout the world as the “Football Nation” but nevertheless, massive demonstrations erupted against the ultra modern temples of sport. Protesters shouted for “FIFA standard” hospitals and schools alluding to the World Cup demands by football’s sanctioning body for technologically marvelous and incredibly expensive arenas. The national feeling is: If there are billions for the stadiums, where is the money for health care, public transportation and education?
Citizens felt cheated. The World cup was sold to the population in 2007 by President Lula as being a private enterprise deal with “not one cent of public money” . The only exception was for the infrastructure to be considered as a “legacy” for the country . Road and rail network money has been funneled into emergency funds to keep up with a FIFA “timetable”. This questionable expediency of public emergency funding without a transparent bidding system was considered by football icon and congressman Romario as the “greatest heist in history”. Some of these modern arenas were built in far off places with little football culture and run the risk of turning into White Elephants. The World Cup of 2010 in South Africa left a legacy of abandoned stadiums. FIFA has a been under scrutiny for fraud. Former FIFA President Joao Havelange was recently convicted for involvement with the ISL scam. FIFA has been accused of organizing World Cups in countries where there is a corruption culture in place. In 2018 the Cup will be held in Russia.
Many football fans are distraught with the reform of the iconic Stadium Maracana in Rio for the 2014 World Cup. The former largest stadium in the world built for the 1950’s World Cup, was imploded to build a much smaller, “sanitized” European style arena costing twice the price of building a new one elsewhere in Rio . The once famous standing room only “Geral” in Maracana , a space for the poorer spectator, was abolished. What was supposed to showcase Brazil as a “modern” country backfired, as these actions are viewed by the population as foreign interference and domination in the national sport, aimed at cleansing the stadiums of the less affluent and not so desirable poorer class.
The demonstrations took everyone by surprise. No one was more surprised than President Dilma Rouseff and Rios’s Governor Sergio Cabral.. Caught with their pants down in the middle of the Confederation Cup with the whole world watching, President Dilma came on National TV with the proverbial “egg on her face” to announce immediate actions. She quickly promised a political reform plebiscite, and to make corruption a heinous crime. She vowed to import “thousands “of doctors from overseas. She promised oil royalty revenue would be spent on education. Finally she promised to cut down the number of executive branch “ministries”.
Once the Confederation Cup ended these promises turned out to be simple political expediencies and have been put in the back burner to be forgotten. She did however; announce a deal to hire 4 thousand Cuban doctors. It became apparent to the populace that President Dilma lacks political and management skills to deal with crisis situations. If you can believe the polls, Dilma’s popularity went from the heady 83% of approval to just 32% in a few weeks.
Recently Brazil’s neighbor Uruguay at odds with both the US and UN, legalized marijuana in an effort to break the “Drug War” stranglehold. The drug war cycle of violence is never ending in Brazil, with continuous deadly police action against the “Favelado” less fortunate citizens who are killed or declared missing on a daily basis. The corporate media calls these nameless victims “traficantes” or drug traffickers, a perverse moniker used by the police state to kill and maim at will by “dehumanizing” the victims of the drug war.
In June, Amarildo, an Afro Brazilian resident of Rocinha, the biggest Favela in Rio went missing after being detained by police at the newly installed UPP or Police Pacifying Unit. The UPP’s were designed to showcase a squeaky clean “pacified” Rio to the world for the forthcoming World Cup and Olympics.. The UPP is now under attack by Favela community leaders and evenby the mainstream media for serving as a foothold for police backed armed militias to take control of the lucrative drug trade and other illegal business in these communities.
Amarildo has become a house hold name, and a symbol of police brutality and dehumanizing actions in the favelas. Apparently the police UPP apparatus now in place in the favelas is behind the missing (and most surely dead) Amarildo. Thousands of demonstrators have gone to the street with banners “Where is Amarildo?” What was a common occurence of missing people in the poor communities escaped into the social network and became big news.
With massive demonstrations to take place on September 7, Brazilian independence day, and with the whole world watching the World Cup next year and the Olympics in 2016, Brazilians will be taking to the streets by the millions demanding a just society, an end of police state tactics and a complete revision of the rules now governing our “representative” democracy where a privileged few, fueled by corruption and violence, rule to their own benefit and to the detriment of the rest of society.
What is refreshingly new in this surge of demonstrations is that there are no leaders. Communications are done via internet. Cell phones are the weapon of choice. There is no left or right ideology. Democracy is viewed as an empty word used by the ruling class for its own benefit.
Recognized as the enemy, corporate news and political parties are banned forcefully from the demonstrations. Political awareness is growing by leaps and bounds. Hackers pry into government and media to expose fraud and corruption on an unprecedented scale. Well in the spirit of Brazil’s joie de vivre, the hated political elite is continuously bombarded on the internet with caustic humor and fierce irony exposing their corrupt personas in clever, tragicomic ways, well in keeping with the Brazilian’s great sense of humor. Nevertheless, Brazilians are dealing with serious, deadly business, enduring tear gas, rubber bullets and real bullets in order to undergo change. The government and politicians hitherto ensconced in the capital have been served notice that things are changing. Will this be enough to promote the change that all Brazilians want of a corruption free political system? The fight is on.
Richard Brokaw lives in Rio de Janeiro. He is a Sociologist, musician and off-road motorcycle rider. He can be reached atRichardbrokaw@hotmail.com